There’s a moment that pretty much tells the story of how The Liberator tells its story: After delivering an epigrammatic one-liner about the future of South America, Simón Bolívar (Édgar Ramírez) cuts a check just as the film smash cuts into the middle of the war financed by that check. The intervening years, and the web of people and causes and actions leading to war, are also trimmed away by the cut as we’re dropped into the chaos of a battle in which the only course of action seems to be continuously pushing forward. If we stipulate Bolívar’s heroism and political significance, we should also stipulate that history is multifaceted and complex, perhaps too much so for a two-hour film. The Liberator struggles under that burden, and in trying to encompass the whole of Bolívar’s life, it unfortunately also suggests that the fate of an entire continent flowed from the psychological scars of the son of a dead mother and husband of a dead wife, which is fine if you’re dealing with a fictional action hero as opposed to playing with the live grenade of historical discourse.
Directed by Alberto Arvelo and penned by Children of Men screenwriter Timothy J. Sexton, the film follows Bolívar’s rise from “little rich boy” among the Venezuelan colonial elite to revolutionary military and political hero in the fight for independence from Spain. The film is upfront about lensing the world psychologically through Bolívar’s eyes, as in the first sequence that intercuts between Bolívar the man escaping from a coup attempt and Bolívar the boy running away from his mother’s wake. It’s also seen in the way the environment is so drastically pinned to Bolívar’s temperament and position in his predestined historical arc: When he first brings back his wife, María Teresa (María Valverde), to Venezuela from Spain, the landscapes are bright and lively, complete with colorful storybook butterflies. When María falls ill, it takes but an instant for the skies to go grey and stormy as a background for Bolívar to brood.